Spying hepaticas by happenstance


I didn’t set out to admire wildflowers. I’d gone to the farm-and-feed store to purchase S-hooks and other items needed for a bird-feeder build.

Over the winter, the dooryard pack of voracious squirrels managed to destroy my aged steel-and-wire model. Like any thrifty do-it-yourselfer, I decided to build a replacement. I’d save a few bucks and possibly make the thing squirrel-indestructible.

I bought my hardware. Plus an “on sale” flannel shirt, leather gloves, and a bag of red licorice I couldn’t resist. When I caught myself admiring a certain pricy Carhartt canvas coat, I got out of there pronto!

Feeling I needed recovery time from my close impulse-shopping disaster, I took the long way home.

Heading northwest instead of east, I crossed Route 40—the old National Road—and zig-zagged along rural byways, through the villages of Verona and Gordon.

This is mostly flat, mostly wide-open farmland. Croplands with few trees except for the occasional woodlot. Empty, stark, desolate, melancholy—especially in winter.

Which ought to be boring. Yet I enjoy this landscape. It’s a visual paradox that both soothes and absorbs.

At Ithaca, I considered continuing west to Castine and paying my respects to Merrill C. Gilfillan, writer, naturalist and native son, who’s buried in the local cemetery. His book, “Moods of the Ohio Moons,” should be on the shelves of every outdoor-minded Buckeye.

Instead, I headed south, then turned east at the unincorporated community of West Sonora. After a little jog, I crossed the Stillwater and began paralleling the river, aiming homeward…though not before a final dawdle.

I’d decided my morning odyssey still needed a brief boots-on-the-ground amble. So I parked in a familiar pull-off a mile from the house and picked my way along the muddy path.

The morning was chilly and damp, but had turned sunny. A breeze stirred among the barren trees. The river, a hundred yards below, winked through the stark woodlands.

Yet what really caught my eye were the hepaticas—dozens of them, in three or four patches scattered across the low hilltop. Delicate and low-growing, their lovely blooms nodded on leafless reddish-brown furry stems.

Each flower was maybe an inch across, with multiple petal-like sepals. Blooms ranged among pastel shades of pink, lavender, blue, purple, and white. Colors from a child’s picture book, their muted hues reminiscent of an old-fashioned Easter egg basket.

Gilfillan said hepatica blooms made the cold March weather seem less formidable. He called them “the badge of spring.”

I typically find hepaticas in rich woodlands where they seem to prefer sites with dappled sunlight. Hepaticas only open on sunny days—but a single clump can cheer up an entire morning!

“I wouldn’t want to go through spring without seeing a good dose of hepaticas,” my old writer-minister-fisherman pal Frank Snare liked to say.

I feel the same way.

Those happenstance hepaticas were invigorating! I eventually turned and headed for home—imagining I might actually be able to build a new feeder impervious to those nefarious squirrels.

Hey, an inspired man can surely dream!


Natural Wanders

By Jim McGuire

Reach this writer at [email protected].

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